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Question of the Week: What do you do with unused over-the-counter or prescription drugs?

2008 December 8

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Drugs and pharmaceutical products include powerful chemicals that have saved or improved countless lives. But even small amounts of drugs need to be disposed of carefully so they don’t pollute the environment or harm human health and wildlife. In early 2007 the government set guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs.

What do you do with unused over-the-counter or prescription drugs?

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115 Responses leave one →
  1. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    Sorry, that’s just making a toxic slurry that will leach into groundwater when the bag breaks. This is exactly the sort of bad advice that is intended to reassure, but not dealing with the real issues (maybe no kids or animals will ingest it by accident, but it will remain in the environment with the potential to harm all of us by contaminating our ground and drinking water). My concern isn’t accidental ingestion (or even purposeful ingestion by a recreational user), but overall environmental effects.

  2. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    Good for you! I feel the same way.

  3. Kelly Withum permalink
    February 20, 2009

    I am a graduate student at the University of Miami in an Environmental Health course and am intrigued by this question. Now that the Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends throwing away most pharamaceuticals, I think we need to examine the issues created by this recommendation. Pharmceuticals are designed to persist in the body and thus, will eventually leach into surface water and ground water. 46 Million in the US have drugs in their drinking water: Adding to the disposal issue is that many drugs leave your body virtually unchanged. Reports are starting to come out on the bioaccumulation of toxic substances in fish and the effect that can have on those consuming the fish.

    From the EPA’s standpoint, what new safety/ treatment measures should be in place to rectify this dire situation?

  4. Lynn Calvin permalink
    March 11, 2009

    Link is broken – a link that worked on the A-Z website on disposing of things would be nice.

  5. kchick permalink
    March 11, 2009

    Should be fixed now.

  6. Gabe C. permalink
    October 7, 2009

    It is good to see that awareness regarding expired meds is becoming mainstream. I was influential in having a local pharmacy develop a take-back program – it was such a big hit, I wrote about it in an environmental newsletter in which I am a columnist. They are planning their third event soon, and their efforts will be featured in a follow-on article in which I compare their efforts with those of two other pharmacies in different parts of the US.

    While grassroots efforts are great, we need the USEPA and the FDA and DEA to provide consistent guidance to these outposts acting on their own with just determination and meager anecdotal guidance.

  7. concerned parent permalink
    November 2, 2009

    Just reading up on this, as I just cleaned out my medicine closet – have a 10 gallon bag of expired prescriptions, as well as supplements of sorts, needing a place to properly dispose of them.

    But the BIGGEST reason I started reading up on this tonight, is I just cleaned out my freezer tonight and found two alza 36 tablets in the bottom of the freezer. There is NO reason why those should be there. My youngest son stopped taking the script about a year ago, and I still had some left in the bottle — should have known better.

    My Step-son was over about a month ago, and I overheard a conversation he had on the phone with the daughter of a friend of his mother’s (confused yet) that was living with them. She was trying to get a hold of Concerta, as she was “needing it” to help study for a test. I suspect that he had gotten some from his brother’s old script bottle, and when I confronted him about the conversation, must have “dumped” the pills in the bottom of the freezer to get later.

    Needless to say, I told him that if I caught him with the pills, or found out that he was either “supplying” or “giving” the pills to others, that he would find out just how much of a “wicked step-mother” I could be, as I would not have a problem having him arrested for “dealing.” Yes, it is a little (no, a lot) extreme, but it could “wake him up” before he ends up killing someone. Truth be told, he really is a good kid, but his mother has absolutely no common sense when it comes to raising kids. Not only that, I have five other kids, and three grandkids I need to worry about as well.

    Well, short story long, in answer to many posts questions, contact your local drug rehab organization. They would be more than happy to direct you on where to safely drop off the old meds. Hospitals, pharmacies, police stations, etc. may also have a system in place as well to properly dispose of them.

  8. Tracey Gay permalink
    December 23, 2009

    In response to drugs that should NEVER be flushed–antibiotics as they make bacteria drug resistant and hormone replacement drugs as they affect the reproductive cycles of aquatic life. Place in sealed container with kitty litter, flour or coffee grounds, mix with water or alcohol and wrap with duct tape–pills will be inert before they leach to ground water.

  9. Arnold Howard permalink
    April 2, 2010

    There are many medicines in this country that are not prescribed properly so it is good to know which ones do not require a prescription, although there are sites that you trust as gives adequate guarantees ..

  10. Amy Cameron permalink
    April 15, 2010

    I just throw them in the trash but now that I know better, I should dispose of them properly. It’s surprising how we take things for granted.

    Amy Cameron

  11. annawilliams permalink
    July 6, 2010

    Thanks for the illustration, it really helped me on my knowledge. environment information is helpful every person,You are thinks is good.Thanks again.

  12. helanponting permalink
    July 6, 2010

    I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can’t wait to read lots of your posts.

  13. menersa permalink
    July 7, 2010

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  14. January 8, 2011

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  15. Anonymous permalink
    May 12, 2011

    I’m utterly shocked to hear this!! If it’s unsafe for the orginal user to use outdated medications, do tell me, how it becomes safe to redistribute to others??? I might as well just keep them myself for later use?!! What then makes old medications unsafe???

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